Words by Fatima Lee Garsi
Photography by James Ip
I started the Leadership Identity Series – a long-term interview project featuring unique, passionate, leading Muslim women – to have meaningful conversations about what it takes to be a leader. I wanted to talk to women who had a strong sense of identity, who challenged themselves, and who weren’t afraid to stand out. My goal with each interview is to engage in a rich conversation that showcases the incredible diversity of our community and that digs into the issues we’re often afraid to talk about. This isn’t a highlight reel – this is real talk!
James Ip, a talented Toronto-based street photographer graciously offered to take evocative portraits for our first set of interviews with these amazing women. We were thrilled to have him join this project and are so pleased to share these portraits with you here. You can view more of James’s work by clicking here.
I’m very excited to release the first episode of this series and look forward to hearing from you. You can listen to the episode here.
Reem Ahmed is a chef, mom, and engineer who cooks and leads with her heart. She immigrated to Canada from Egypt several years ago and has found her community here in the GTA. You might recognize Reem because she was the first hijabi to appear on MasterChef Canada Season 5.
Things I learned:
Strength of Character
Being on Master Chef is a huge test of character! Aside from dealing with the pressure of a competition on national TV, contestants are allowed just one phone call a week home.
I was struck by Reem’s strength and how she dealt with multiple points of tension: being a new mom and competing away from her newborn, being the first and only visible Muslim woman on MasterChef, struggling with language, postpartum depression, and of course, the intense challenges of the competition itself.
Stigma and Mental Illness
Reem spoke openly about mental illness and postpartum depression. To admit you’re struggling with mental health can be a taboo topic in the Muslim community. So, getting professional help is not easy. Seeking out a therapist should be easier to talk about and should be normalized.